It’s fitting that last week I shared thoughts shared from 3x Olympian AG Kruger III about the willingness to put in the work in order to get the results you desire. When you step back and reflect on his thoughts and the idea about working towards a goal, it really is simple. It’s not easy, but the concept is simple enough for us to understand. If you are willing to put in the work, you are giving yourself a better opportunity to reach your goals. I watched it come to fruition this weekend at Nazareth College.
Even though St. John Fisher College was hosting the meet this weekend, the throws portion of the competition was held at Nazareth College. St. John Fisher College is updating their throwing venue to prepare for the 2023 Division III Outdoor National Championships. It was a pretty good day weather wise. Much better than the conditions of last weekend.
Women’s discus got things going. Alfred State had good performances by Kelly and Kenzie. They opened things up in flight one, and had good days. Not great days by their standards, but they got things rolling for our team. Nicole had a solid day in the discus, making the finals and hitting a throw over 32m. Nicole had quite a busy day for us. She made the finals in the hammer and shot-put as well. Nicole finished with a throw over 37m in the hammer, which is consistent with what she threw a couple of weeks ago. She also flirted with 10m in the shot, hitting three throws over 9.50m, with five of six throws going over 9m.
Wilfredo and James got things going on the men’s side. Wilfredo hit a seasonal best in the discus, and James just missed the finals by less than a meter. Dylan won the meet with a throw of 51.17m. That set the facility record, and at the time moved him into 4th place in the DIII men’s discus rankings. As of this morning (April 25th, 2022) he dropped one stop to 5th place. Overall, Dylan had his most consistent series. He opened at 48.50m (15cm under his personal best), F, and 49.92m in round 3. His 3rd round throw was a personal best. He then hit 47.92m in round 5, 51.17m in round 5, and had a F in round 6. His highest meet average of the season and two throws over his old personal best.
In the men’s shot put Wilfredo and James had solid performances. Wilfredo had a seasonal best toss, and James stayed consistent. James and Dylan both narrowly missed the finals. Dylan by 1cm and James by about 30cm. It was Dylan’s lowest marked meet throw of the season. Shot put came right after the men's discus. This may have contributed to his performance in the shot.
Both Kenzie and Kelly had personal best performances in the shot put. Kelly built upon each throw and finished just under 7m. Kenzie finished just under 8m. Kelly just recently joined the throwing group about a month ago. Kenzie is a first sport swimmer, joining our team a few weeks ago as well. She threw in high school, but is coming off of a very long swim season. As Kenzie and Kelly continue to take a higher volume of throws in practice and build rhythm with their respective events, they will become more comfortable with the discus and shot put as our conference championships approach in a couple of weeks.
Men’s hammer saw James throw a personal best and just miss the finals by about 1m. In round 2 and round 3 he eclipsed his previous personal best throws. Dylan finished 2nd with a throw of 48.01m. He took the lead in round 4, but that throw was surpassed by someone that hit a personal best in round 5.
Overall it was a fantastic day for our Alfred State throwers. Lots of personal best marks, seasonal best marks, and throwing nuances to work on over the next couple of weeks in preparation for our outdoor conference championships. All the credit for the successes of our Alfred State throwers goes to Head Track and Field coach Tim Giagios. He has been with the throwers everyday, ensuring that they are prepared for both practice and meet competition. I’m not sure how he is able to juggle everything as a head coach, but I’m in awe of his ability to do so and respect the fact that he is able to ensure our throwing group is receiving the support they need while balancing the needs of all the other event groups on the team. At this point in the season I’m ‘along for the ride’ offering support from a distance when able. Tim, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to still stay involved with the throwers. Watching their growth and development from a distance has been a rewarding experience for me!
We are a few weeks into the outdoor season, and the conference, regional, and national leaderboards have found themselves in constant flux. As different regions across the country have started competing on a more regular basis, the state of the leaderboards has been in disaray. New leaders and new athletes populating the most important top 20 distances at the Division III level. The top 20 are the most important because those are the athletes that, if entered, will compete at the outdoor national championships this season.
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve written a lot about building confidence and instilling a sense of self-efficacy in oneself. An activity that I shared with my Holistic Coaching athletes this week focused on constructing our own personal highlight reels in our minds. Recalling three performances/outcomes in which we really shined was the emphasis of our conversations this week. The idea of reviewing three occasions and creating a one minute Sportscenter type highlight reel of our performances. The undertone of the idea being centered on imagery, how powerful imagery can be as a learned skill, and how to incorporate imagery into our daily routines.
Sometimes, however, if we haven’t quite mastered the skill of imagery, a sense of self-doubt starts to creep in. We may have the best intentions of how we want to compete, but because of our lack of preparedness or anxiety to incorporate the skill, we revert back to our old selves and allow doubt to sabotage our competition. A strategy to divert doubt and transform our negative thoughts into more positive ones goes like this.
Most throwers are aware that there is a conversation going on in their heads in and out of the throwing circle or javelin runway. These conversations might go in a variety of directions; either extremely positive, extremely negative, and of course somewhere in between. What would you do if the other throwers that you are competing against that day started talking to you the way you talk to yourself? The value in this activity is in recognizing this internal dialogue as a mechanism to separate ourselves from the undermining voice of self-doubt. One of the characteristics of self-doubt is that it tends to strengthen as the challenge increases (attempting to hit a distance standard, competing at a small meet vs. competing at nationals, having to set a personal best or near personal best to qualify for finals) or as it represents an increasing risk (attempting a new technique during competition for the first time).
Training our mind takes a concerted daily effort. Much like training to throw the shot-put or discus, it is not automatic. We spend countless hours learning proper throwing technique, yet fail to practice mindset techniques that will help us overcome anxiety, fear, or the frustration of throwing. A research based strategy to help us refocus when we sense self-doubt creeping in is to create power phrases for yourself. Destructive power phrases associated with self-doubt might include “I won’t…,” “I can’t…,” or “I am not…”. Redirected positive power phrases begin with “I will…,” “I can…,” or “I am…” Following the examples below, you can create and develop your own positive power phrases to assist you in overcoming self-doubt when you feel it attempting to take up space in your mind at practice, before, and during competition.
When you think “I will…,” this is a statement about positive change or intention. Our focus is directed towards what you want and what you intend to make happen. When competing, what are one or two “I will…” statements that will help you stay focused on what you are going to do during the competition?
When you think “I can…,” this is a statement about your potential. It is a positive statement about your ability to accomplish your goals and dreams. When you think “I can…” you focus on your belief in your ability to do something. When competing, what are one or two “I can…” statements that will help you stay focused on your abilities to accomplish your goals?
When you think “I am…,” this is the most powerful power phrase because it is a statement about who you are. Your reality and future can take shape from the phrase “I am…” When you think “I am…” you focus on the traits that you already have inside you. When competing, what are one or two “I am…” statements about who you are as a person and individual.
“To be great is not how good you are, it is how well you train and prepare.”
AG Kruger III, 3x USA Olympian, Hammer Throw
The last time I visited Ashland University, I took a picture of a quote written into one of the support beams. The quote was written by AG Kruger III. He is a 3x USA Olympian in the Hammer Throw. He wrote this before he left Ashland as he made the transition from athlete to coach.
As AG mentioned on Instagram, how well we train and prepare is not just a mindset or methodology about track and field or throwing, but a reminder for the challenges and obstacles we face on a daily basis. Our willingness to prepare for life will be an indication of how great (at something) we might become.
A lot can be said about the willingness to prepare, how our training is structured, and the limits we are willing to endure along our own unique journey. It is in that willingness to sacrifice where the great separate themselves from the good and the good from the average. But, are you willing to train well and prepare for the struggles and obstacles that we may encounter along our path?
Recent research suggests that athletes that are willing to endure and persist through extreme adversity or have a willingness to do whatever it takes identified as being more mentally prepared for the rigors of training and competition (Wilson et. al., 2019). Similarly, Jaeschke and colleagues (2016) found individual sport athletes are more accustomed and willing to take a greater initiative to push boundaries of extreme measures to satisfy their athletically related aspirations. Much of what one is willing to endure is going to be reflected in their performances, whether athletic or in life in general.
In order to better prepare oneself for the rigors of training, research has reported that to persevere, gain perspective, and to engage in preparation, a sense of presentness was required to navigate times in which distractions may impede training on our journey (Wilson et. al., 2016). What distinguishes those that achieve greatness from those that don’t satisfy their aspirations is the notion of being present and fully engaged without distraction with the task at hand (training, throwing, weightroom), rather than to simply be going through the proverbial motions (Kaiseler et. al., 2009; Nicholls et. al., 2008).
In order to sustain a perspective centered on preparedness and a willingness to overcome, another central tenet in the literature has been reported about gratitude and being grateful for opportunities and experiences that generate meaning and purpose in one’s life (Gucciardi, Jackson, Hanton, & Reid, 2015). Athletes that value growth and development in their respective sports have higher perceived mental toughness compared to their peers not valuing the growth aspects of development within their respective sports (Dweck, 2015; Gucciardi et. al., 2015). Practicing gratefulness is a topic that has been widely discussed across many genres of literature from such authors as; Jon Gordon (Energy Bus), Kate Leavell (Stick Together), Carol Dweck (Growth Mindset), Greg Everett (Tough; Olympic Weightlifting), Lou Holtz (former ND Football coach), Amber Selking (Selking Performance Group), and Rick McGuire (former University of Missouri Track and Field Coach).
As a prompt for practicing gratefulness, a strategy you can incorporate is as follows.
Every morning upon waking up, write down 2-5 things you are grateful for. I write mine down in a gratitude journal that I have with me all the time. I usually write them down during breakfast. The purpose behind the prompt is to think about your life and recognize the things you are appreciative of. I usually write down 4 or 5 because I have two that are the same everyday. The idea is to think about aspects of your life, no matter how small or insignificant they may seem, that you are truly appreciative of and why. An important aspect in the development and continuation of this habit is to write down why you are grateful for those things in your life. Why are you grateful for this part of your life? What meaning or value does it bring to you? If it wasn’t a part of your life how would it affect you?
Wandering Minds Want to Know
Over the course of the past couple of months I have had the great pleasure to work with a wonderful, enthusiastic, and driven group of throwers through my Holistic Coaching program at Forza Athletics. The feedback I have received from the athletes that are participating has been extremely helpful in ensuring that I am offering them the best mindset and mental preparation support possible. To assist these athletes along their journeys, we have had some frank and delicate conversations. One such topic that has come up with multiple throwers has been about engagement in competition.
As you might have guessed, I keep specific notes about each conversation I have with each thrower. Since the outdoor season has started, a topic that has been repeated in conversation has been focused on engagement, or rather lack of engagement in competition. This was not a topic that came up during the indoor season.
After four different athletes made reference to the topic, I engaged deeper, trying to discern what they meant by lack of engagement in competition. The surrounding details are to be kept confidential, but hearing their stories makes me think that others might benefit from the strategies I shared with them in conversation. It also leads me to believe that lack of engagement in competition is not something that only happens to elite level throwers, but to a majority of throwers with varying levels of ability.
Strategies to Combat Lack of Engagement During Competition
1. Recognize Our Thoughts
I’ll be one of the first to admit that attending track meets can at times be quite boring if you let it. There is so much happening around the track and in the field events that there is a lot to pay attention to.
When the initial thought(s) of boredom or lack of engagement begins to creep in, be able to recognize this is happening. Then ask yourself why you might be feeling this way? What is happening or not happening around you that has caused you to lose interest in what is happening? It is ok to have this thought, we are human.
2. Intentionality - You Give Power to What You Focus On
After you recognize this thought, bring yourself back to thoughts of purpose. Why are you here competing? What excites you most about competing? Take two or three deep breaths and become more mindful in the present moment. Take in the experience that is happening at that moment, not what has happened in the past or what you might be thinking about happening in the future, but what is happening in that moment.
Attentional control is all about being locked on to the right things at the right time. It is a purposeful process. When we think about performance and executing when it matters most, we have to bring our minds back to the current moment because this is where the performance is happening.
3. Your Why
When you bring your mind back to the competition, think about your purpose and why you are competing. Think about your aspirations and what you want to accomplish this season. You may have a technical cue you are working on, bring your emphasis back to that specific objective for the meet.
The Illusion of Choice
If you’ve been reading along the past few weeks, I hope you have noticed a theme focused on goal-setting, accountability, and choice. The transition to outdoor track leaves us with about 10-11 weeks left of the spring semester. Still plenty of time to address goals, decision-making, and time management strategies for our outdoor season. Hold this thought for a moment.
Last week I purchased Getting to Neutral by Trevor Moawad. A couple of years ago he released his best selling book It Takes What It Takes. In Trevor’s new book, he shares stories of how coaches have implemented his teachings around the topic of remaining neutral in moments of stress, anxiety, happiness, and joy. On page 30 of Getting to Neutral Trevor included a section about the illusion of choice. Essentially we have choices and decisions to make all throughout the day. In some instances, however, it seems as though we have the illusion of choice.
In any endeavor we find value in pursuing, there will be decisions to make along the way. Decisions that on the surface may seem inconsequential in the moment, but that may lead us down a path away from the goal we ultimately aspire to achieve. The illusion of choice.
I shared this concept with one of my throwers this week. Along with a couple of snippets from Trevor’s Instagram page where he discusses this illusion of choice with Division I football and basketball players. The response I received back from my athlete was, “Coach, I’ve never thought about it that way before.”
Autonomy is something I share quite a bit of with the throwers I coach. We have a specific schedule in place with regards to throwing and weight room times. The events we emphasize during each throwing session might vary based on the physical and mental condition the throwers come to practice in. I believe that flexibility is very important. It allows each thrower to be accountable for their session based on how they feel, whether they will be late because they are coming from a class, leaving early to go to class, etc.
Autonomy, in essence, is about choice. Allowing others to dictate the direction (in this case throwing) they want to head down. But sometimes there is the illusion of choice. Something I’ve never really discussed with all my athletes before, but with a few that had higher aspirations of throwing compared to their peers.
In the goal-setting process, when thinking about outcome and process goals, process goals offer a great deal of autonomy to our athletes. Winning those individual moments (process goal items) will give us a better opportunity towards ultimately achieving our outcome goal. There is a choice. But the illusion of choice.
Oftentimes in order to achieve our goals we really aren’t afforded many choices. You aren’t going to throw far (your definition of far) by not throwing. It’ll be much more difficult to finish an Ironman Triathlon race if we just show up one day without having trained to swim for 2.1 miles, ride our bikes for 116 miles, and run 26.2 miles all in the same day with time limits. We can say to ourselves that everything will be ok and work out alright, but will it?
Getting back to our throwing example, there are certain habits and routines that the very best of the best throwers prioritize in their day-to-day lives. They have a choice to either complete them or not, but not doing so would put them behind their competitors who are going above and beyond to be the best, too! So, when you say you want to be the best, the choice is yours. Or is it.
“You can succeed when no one believes in you. You have no chance to succeed if you don’t believe in yourself.” Lou Holtz
I shared a video about the topic of self belief a couple of weeks ago. And this quote by Lou Holtz resonates with me on a multitude of levels. In some ways I see some similarities with this quote and when athletes share that they have a chip on their shoulder.
This idea became more profound after my conversation with 2021 Olympic Trials silver medallist discus thrower Micaela Hazlewood. In sharing her story about throwing in high school and the recruiting process, she made reference to the fact that she has a chip on her shoulder. Micaela shared that it (the chip) stems from her time as a high school senior with a handful of collegiate coaches showing interest in her attending their university to throw.
Micaela also shared this on social media a few weeks ago. The idea that so many people doubted her, her abilities, and what she was capable of throwing. Essentially, she has bet on herself and the bet is paying off.
So, why wouldn’t you believe in yourself? As Coach Holtz stated, you have no chance to succeed if you don’t believe in yourself.
If you don’t believe you can accomplish something, why would others think you could?
Much of our belief system stems from prior experiences (good and bad). From those experiences we are able to ascertain potential successes or failures moving forward. From my experiences as a coach, athletes at times seem to lack the patience required to achieve a certain level of success. Or however they as the athlete perceive their success to be.
For those of you that have been listening to the Forza Athletics Life and Coaching Podcast for a while, you know that I ask a question like this of all my guests, “What advice would you have for someone that was interested in continuing to pursue their throwing dreams after graduating?” All of my guests have suggested to those listening that they indeed should continue throwing/training as long as they can and want to under the condition that it is still pleasurable and enjoyable to them.
Those that ask are probably asking for a couple of reasons. First, seeking the counsel and guidance of someone that has achieved what you want to achieve will give a great indication into what it will take to accomplish a similar goal. Second, those same individuals asking may be asking to get a sense or indication as to whether or not the other person thinks they should continue pursuing their throwing goal.
I remember when Luis graduated in 2016 and we were beginning to put a plan together for the 2020 Olympic Trials. I shared something on Twitter about making the transition to post-collegiate throwing and received a response from Jud Logan. In a few words he basically said that if you haven’t hit the ‘A’ standard it’s going to make things much more difficult. I appreciated his honesty then and am appreciative that he took the time to share his thoughts on it.
Similar to the athletes I coach or have coached in the past, I have always encouraged them to continue pursuing their interests/passions after college. For those that have wanted to continue throwing, I’ve helped them as best I can as a post-collegiate thrower. If anyone were to ask me today what I think they should do about post-collegiate training, my response would be a resounding YES. Yes, continue pursuing your goal. Continue training. Try to find other like-minded individuals and ask them what has worked, hasn’t worked, etc.
The journey has to start with the individual. They have to believe they are pursuing their goal for the right reason(s). To continue training for the sake of training without a passion for it might lead to burnout, disengagement, getting physically hurt, bored, frustrated, etc. You have to believe in yourself that you will be able to accomplish this goal. You need to have a ‘Why’ behind this pursuit. Find a support system, a group of others that are pursuing similar goals. Think about what you’ll need to do differently as a post-collegiate athlete; facilities, training, coaches, recovery tools, etc.
Dr. Charles Infurna
Charles Infurna, Ed.D., is the owner and lead coach of Forza Athletics Track Club. Dr. Infurna has coached National Record Holders, National Champions, All-Americans, and Conference Champions at the Post-Collegiate, Collegiate, and High School level.